'The More You Pay Attention, The Weirder Things Are' - A Conversation With Carmen Maria Machado

Oct 1, 2019

For our fifth episode of the Converge Lecture Series Podcast, we're joined by writer Carmen Maria Machado.

Machado is an author, essayist and critic, best known for her debut short story collection Her Body and Other Parties. Blending elements of horror, fantasy and stark realism, her work explores themes of power and sex, pleasure and alienation, and the particular way these forces shape the lives and experiences of women. 

Released in 2017, Her Body and Other Parties took the literary world by storm. It was a finalist for the National Book Award, and winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, the National Book Critic Circle's John Leonard Prize, and numerous other distinctions. FX is currently developing a TV series based on the collection.

Her next book, In The Dream House, is set to be released in November. Combining elements of memoir with essay and cultural criticism, it tells the story of her experience of domestic violence in a queer relationship.

Machado was invited to speak in Colorado Springs as part of Converge Lecture Series, which brings writers and poets to the city to share their reflections on art, life, and the topic of Moral Beauty. 

She spoke with 91.5 KRCC in advance of that talk. 

Listen to the full interview above, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

Interview Highlights

On the connection between art and the uncanny

I sort of believe that most writers -- even writers who wouldn't identify as horror writers -- are writers of the uncanny. If you're a writer, and you're plugged into details hard enough, everything's a little weird. The more you pay attention, the weirder things are, or the more beautiful or interesting things are, or the scarier things are. I feel like that sort of instinct of, like, "I'm just noticing a lot of strangeness," or "I had a very strange day" or like, "there has been a sequence of events which separately would not be extraordinary, but together are interesting," all those things are the way a writer's brain -- or an artist's brain -- works. 

On the origins of Her Body and Other Parties

People say that your first book is the book you've been storing up in yourself your whole life, and there's one chance to do that. You only get one debut. You get one opportunity to let out this thing that you've been sort of holding in. For me, at the time when I wrote and sold the book, which was when I was in my 20s… I was in this place of thinking about the body as fragile in all these ways: as a woman, as a woman of color, as a queer woman, also as a victim of domestic abuse. There were a lot of ways in which those ideas were kind of marinating for me. As I began to string those stories together and think of them as a project, it made sense to me that they were sort of in this conversation about, like, what does it mean to be in a body, which you can't help but be in... and to sort of occupy that space in the world? 

On what her stories "mean"

I try not to say what my stories "mean." I never want my stories to be a very simple 1:1 ratio, which I think is a trap that sometimes writers who are writing any kind of non-realism will fall into… they'll be like, "Oh, it's like racism, but it's with ghosts instead of people"... and it's like one step removed from whatever the thing is. To me that's not very interesting. I like things to be a little more muddled and complex. 

91.5 KRCC is a media partner with Converge Lecture Series